I'm thinking about paperwork these days. Maybe it's because the first of the year always brings paperwork (year-end income and expense statements, for starters), or maybe because these few months have required both my passport renewal and the renewal of my permanent residence card.

In any case: documenting one's whereabouts, one's activities--it can require keeping paper, and knowing where you've kept it.

But there's also something a little spooky about paperwork defining you. A trip through my strongbox this morning was a wee trip down memory lane. Marital status, residence, church membership, university transcripts, work status information--all of it requires paper, much of which could be kept. But should it?

This past weekend was the memorial service for Margaret Phillips, feminist, activist, and the personality and energy behind the Northern Woman's Bookstore. She was an important part of the region's recognition of art and literature, and we'll miss her. Estella Howard wrote a poem that she read at this memorial service (full text here). My favourite part of the poem is the line about "respecting the gentle woman privacy," because, of those people--100+, maybe 200?--in the ballroom celebrating her life, I wondered who among us knew more than one or a few parts of Margaret.

Today I ran across an envelope with the obituary my father wrote for himself, along with his directions to his minister for his funeral. They were handy in 2007, when he died, but do I need access to them now? I also found an envelope with deeds to the property where I'm sitting, bearing the strong signatures of my mother and grandmother, written 60 years ago in blue fountain-pen ink.

Technically, none of these documents are part of who I am--but technically, they also are. Will I keep them? Of course.

So I sort and pitch and shred. I list other items that should go into this box, with copies kept elsewhere. But I also remember my right to "gentle woman privacy," and I treasure that, too.